Archive: Month: March 2016

Sucre, teenage pregnancies, Easter and advent of code.


I must say, I really enjoyed our time in Sucre. It’s the capital of Bolivia, which confused me as I thought it was La Paz, quite a common misconception it seems.


Anyway, we came here partly to learn Spanish (there are heaps of schools here, so it’s quite affordable), and partly to chill out for a bit. I had to fight to get Maaike to stop travelling for a bit ;) . We booked an AirBnB, which turned out to be super affordable, central, and just perfect. It was so nice to be able to unpack everything for a week, have your own kitchen, bathroom, reasonable Internet. Yes, I’m soft and weak, but hey, it was really really nice! Holidays aren’t supposed to be all work ;)


We took Spanish lessons at the Sucre Spanish School, though I’m not completely sure I’d recommend them over anywhere else. Our teacher was nice, but it was super grammar focussed and not heaps of “fun”. It’s tricky though, as Maaike has done a lot of teaching and has learned lots of interesting ways of conveying information, so it was a little frustrating to know that there were more interactive ways of teaching. Still, we did learn a lot and it was definitely worth brushing up our Spanish even more. In fact, if that’s one piece of advice I’d give for South America, the more you know Spanish, the more you’re going to enjoy yourself.

The market was excellent, many ripe mango’s were bought and consumed. You might want to brush up on your mango cutting skillz


Walking home one day we saw a poster for what looked like a concert… it was 10 Boliviano’s (~$2 NZD) so we thought nothing to lose. Indeed, nothing to lose. It turned out to be some short films made by school kids. I’m not sure if the theme of the event was “teenage pregnancy” or not, but certainly that’s what the two films were about. Now, my Spanish is still terrible, but, here are the very rough outlines

Film #1


Plot: Accountant? comes to school to provide maths tutorials to students. 15 year old school girl falls for him, they end up sleeping together (possibly the most awesome sex-scene ever made, it featured ankles). She then thinks it’s a mistake / fears that she is pregnant, so they find a dodgy friend to get the morning after pill from. The girl goes home, takes the pill, and dies!!

Film #2


Plot: It features broadly the same charaters, somewhat confusing at the start. Anyway, we see a school boy chatting up a school girl. He’s obviously trying to convince her to go to the next stage, but she’s not at all sure about this, not at all. He leaves. Then an old lady comes up to the school girl and tells her about her “mistake?” back in the day when she was but a lass. We see this girl had a fling with a guy, got pregnant by him. Looks like he wanted her to abort, but she decided to keep the baby. She goes to the church to pray, and the priest there has a chat with her, and then goes with her to her family to discuss it. You can’t really see it too well, but the father is the same actor who plays the priest, and there is some seriously special special effects (and some aliasing artifacts) where they’ve superimposed the two actors into the same frame. Still, better than any video by far that I’d be able to put together. Anyway, I digress, so the old lady tells the younger one her story, and then at the end we see the girl back in school and seeing her would-be suitor chatting up a whole lot of other girls (so, lucky escape there for her)

Then there were a lot of statistics – which I’ll Google translate here:


In Latin America and the Caribbean two out of ten teenagers between 15 and 19 years are mothers.
In Bolivia of all pregnant women, 25 % are teenagers. For 1000 women in 88 births are to teenage mothers , which means that 132 births are dispersed area , compared to 67 births per 1,000 women in urban area.
Three out of ten teenagers in the poorest group is mother or pregnant , compared with a ten richest sector
Adolescents living in rural areas in poverty and less access to education, are at the greatest risk of being pregnant or having a child before 20 years
According to the data of CIES adolescents between 14 and 15 years sexually active , whose consequence are unwanted pregnancies
Three out of four pregnancies in adolescents and aged 15 to 19 years are unplanned representing 75%
In Chuquisaca the rate of teenage pregnancy from January to May was 21.8 % of total pregnancies Department
The increase between 2014 and 2015 is too abrupt .
2014 represented 8.5% whereas 2015 is 21.8 % of all pregnant women

We were also in Sucre for Easter, lots of parades and the city pretty much shuts down for Good Friday.


I did get to play on my computer a little too.. I thoroughly enjoyed completing The Advent of Code. 24 Christmas’y themed puzzles of varying difficulty.

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I did find a few of them tricky, and it was .. humbling, to see some of the solutions that people came up with. Still, a really fun learning exercise and it was very gratifying to complete them all :) ..

For example – day 19:

— Day 19: Medicine for Rudolph —

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is sick! His nose isn’t shining very brightly, and he needs medicine.

Red-Nosed Reindeer biology isn’t similar to regular reindeer biology; Rudolph is going to need custom-made medicine. Unfortunately, Red-Nosed Reindeer chemistry isn’t similar to regular reindeer chemistry, either.

The North Pole is equipped with a Red-Nosed Reindeer nuclear fusion/fission plant, capable of constructing any Red-Nosed Reindeer molecule you need. It works by starting with some input molecule and then doing a series of replacements, one per step, until it has the right molecule.

However, the machine has to be calibrated before it can be used. Calibration involves determining the number of molecules that can be generated in one step from a given starting point.

For example, imagine a simpler machine that supports only the following replacements:

H => HO
H => OH
O => HH

Given the replacements above and starting with HOH, the following molecules could be generated:

HOOH (via H => HO on the first H).
HOHO (via H => HO on the second H).
OHOH (via H => OH on the first H).
HOOH (via H => OH on the second H).
HHHH (via O => HH).

So, in the example above, there are 4 distinct molecules (not five, because HOOH appears twice) after one replacement from HOH. Santa’s favorite molecule, HOHOHO, can become 7 distinct molecules (over nine replacements: six from H, and three from O).

The machine replaces without regard for the surrounding characters. For example, given the string H2O, the transition H => OO would result in OO2O.

Your puzzle input describes all of the possible replacements and, at the bottom, the medicine molecule for which you need to calibrate the machine. How many distinct molecules can be created after all the different ways you can do one replacement on the medicine molecule?

Salar de Uyuni (biggest salt flats in the whole wide world)


Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers….Bolivia holds about 43% of the world’s lithium reserves most of those are located in the Salar de Uyuni. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within one meter over the entire area of the Salar.

Up early today to see the sunrise from the top of Isla Incahuasi, the remnants of a volcano poking above the surface of the salt flats. I wish I’d been able to be in two places at once, as the sunrise from the salt flats themselves reflected in some of the pools would have been pretty epic too.


The island also has coral on it too from when the volcano was submerged beneath the lake. I was completely out of breath after running up the hill to get the sunrise (in the event, no rushing needed). That’s what comes from running at a height of 3,656 meters!. Then breakfast


Then it was time to play with perspective on the salt flats. It’s super hard to know how decent your photographs are until you’re back somewhere a little darker than the whiteness of the salt flats, still, some of them came out well, and Cam and Sophie were great fun & full of good ideas for pictures.



The Dakar Rally was held here a couple of times. Apparently it takes a Jeep about 2-3 hours to drive around the flats, but competitors did it in 40minutes.


Finally, a quick trip to the train graveyard. When the mining industry collapsed in the 1940s these trains were left here to rot.


It was a magnificent landscape to visit. It would have been great to have had a day or so longer to just be there, spend some time in the quiet of the place, play with the light and distance. Maybe we’ll have to come back and cycle tour around ;)

En route to Salar de Uyuni (lakes, flamingoes, ventifacts.. this post has it all)


Heh, so, as mentioned in the last post, I’d had an evil night before this trip and was feeling quite ill in the morning. Fortunately though, the hostel staff took very good care of me and found some decent pro-biotics to help fix the system. Our other two fellow adventurers on this trip (Cam and Sophie – both from Christchurch!!) also had stomach issues! While a bad thing, in the sense that it’s not nice having stomach issues, it was good in the sense that we could all relate to each other, tell war stories etc. ;)

Anyway, the first day was quite a long, covering a lot of distance. Fortunately there were enough and frequent stop for all necessities ;)


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We were to see more of the llamas (a few different species?) llama & vicuña(smaller). Our excellent guide, Elvis, told us that llamas are the most polite animals because they all toilet in the same areas. It was quite hard to know what was fact from fiction with Elvis, however, you can see the quite distinct areas where the animals do seem to toilet.


Then it was time for lunch. I forgot to take a picture of what I ate. The food was excellent, however, I was just eating rice this first day. Maaike had her own back from when I was eating all the delicious food at Aldea Luna and she was the one having plain rice ;)


Breakdowns on the trip were not infrequent on the first day. Not our car to be fair, one of the others. Elvis explained that while in town all the companies compete for the business, out in the desert they’re one big family (for security purposes). Still, I wonder if there are sharp words when back in town for the more lackadaisical operators… I wonder.


Next up was the “Ghost town” of San Antonio. According to Elvis it was the top three “richest towns” in the world, back in its heyday. I can’t find any sources to back up that statement though. That said, it was a major centre of the Spanish colonial extraction of gold & silver, so, I’m sure a lot of wealth was extracted from here anyway. Had a population of 2,000 odd.


Then a little more driving to reach the hostel for the evening. We were all a little knackered by the time we got in, sometime around 8pm ish. A long day, but a good day.


The next morning up early and off to see some llamas. Photogenic creatures to be sure.


They also tell jokes to each other, as you can see in these before & after photos.



Then a quick drive to one of the first (smaller) salt flats. They’re mined for various salts, lithium, regular sodium chloride and borax – which is used in detergents. We did see some flamingoes here, which made us very excited. You can see in the first (green) picture below here, a quite fragile habitat, complete with signs telling you not to walk on it. It was disappointing to see some French tourists running across the mounds. They did get off once told… still..


This entire area is littered with volcanoes, and we passed some boulders which had been ejected in one of the eruptions.


We arrived at our first major lake.. which I think was Laguna Verde. Here we saw a cycle tourist.. I didn’t manage to talk to him, but, I hear, he was having a pretty hard time of it. It’d be very very difficult going, what with the endless miles of gravel, dust, salt, and very little water you can drink. I believe he’d started at Alaska 8 or so months before. Solid effort.


Next up was a soak in the hot springs followed by lunch. A lunch I ate, a milestone if ever there was one.


After lunch it was on to a thermal area. Not particularly (ok, at all) roped off. I was actually quite surprised to hear that there had only been 1 death in the last few years (a Chilean jumping up for a selfie beside a bubbling mud pool…). Nasty way to go. Someone did burn their legs extremely badly a month ago, though I don’t think they lost them. Respect the boiling mud folks.


Next up was Laguna Colorada, the red lake. We were extremely lucky to have some flamingoes very close to the shore were we could easily photograph them… I did try to cull the photos down, but hey, there were just too many I liked ;). The red color is caused by sediments and a certain type of algae in the water.


The next day started off with visiting Árbol de piedra (stone tree) and other formations around it. They’re ventifacts (what an awesome name that is). Sandstone in this case.

Ventifacts are rocks that have been abraded, pitted, etched, grooved, or polished by wind-driven sand or ice crystals


We also saw lots of fossilised? coral dating back to when the entire area was one massive lake. I think Elvis was suggesting that it was all at sea level once upon a time (before the Andean uplift), but again, I can’t see any evidence to support that, and 3500m would be an awful lot of uplift from sea level. More lakes, more flamingoes at close up.


We had lunch at Laguna Negra, one of the few (if not only) freshwater lakes in the area. I think the rocks were volcanic silicia ventifacts ;) The moss grows at 1mm / year.


After lunch we had a quick stop at an area of exposed old lava flow. Where the rock has been exposed it has eroded less quickly than the surrounds, being harder volcanic rock. You can also see the unfortunate state of not having toileting facilities, and people not even attempting to bury their deposits. It’s a shame really. I guess the cost of putting in and maintaining toilets would be fairly prohibitive, but still. Also pictured is Elvis (with shades) and Fernando (our driver)


Next up – the salt flats themselves – next post :)

Argentina -> Bolivia (Tupiza)


Our time in Argentina was drawing to a close. After Aldea Luna we headed back to Jujuy for 2 nights. Time to do some much needed washing & eat some ice-cream before getting the bus to Bolivia. Yes, eating the ice-cream was important, as Maaike has been telling me horror stories about not being able to eat ice-cream in Bolivia!! Quelle Horreur.


5 hours to the border. Climbed up quite a bit, we’d be at 2,800m or so by the evening.

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Maaike had said it was likely to take all day before we’d get through the crossing, however, things have changed in Bolivia in the 8 years since she was last there. The crossing only took 45 minutes. Funnily enough, we had crossed into Bolivia before actually getting our passports stamped. I wonder what would have happened when we tried to leave Bolivia without having been stamped..

There were heaps of money changers, so we were able to change the Pesos for Bolivianos. The exchange rate was actually quite reasonable really, knowing that you’re stuck ‘n all.

Then a minibus trip to Tupiza. Maaike .. complained.. about how the roads were paved and about how lucky I had it. I like being lucky ;)

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In Tupiza we booked a 4 day tour of the (worlds biggest) salt flats at Salar de Uyuni. I also came down with a rather nasty D&V bug, second time this trip :( . The hostel/tour operators gave me some probiotics (pictured below), which cleared things up within 24 hours. I had thought this was actually an antibiotic, but it isn’t.. it’s the bacterium Saccharomyces boulardii and it basically corrects the balance in the stomach… Well, I guess it is bacteria you’re introducing.. does this mean the bugs inside the stomach will build up resistance?! one hopes not. Anyone qualified feel free to comment ;)


It really was magic stuff, I was feeling basically perfect within 24 hours, and I don’t need to feel bad about contributing to antibiotic resistance either (I think)

WWOOFingish at Aldea Luna


No, this isn’t a post about dogs ;)

WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is what this post is about. We signed up for the Argentina WWOOFing site, one of the worst websites I’ve seen in a while actually… I’d love to rewrite it. Anyway, once you’ve signed up then you get access to all the contact information for WWOOFing places in that specific country. Costly sign up process if you’re going to a lot of countries. We subsequently heard of workaway which seems like a much better bet as most WWOOFing sites are on it, and it’s one (lower) cost for the entire world.

Anyway, Aldea Lunca is a lovely spot 15km or so outside of Jujuy in the North of Argentina. Their full-time WWOOfing spots were all taken, but they had an option where you pay 910 Pesos per week per person, and you do 4 hours of work too, that was the option we went for.

We took the local bus from Jujuy and were met by two kiwis (Sam and Georgia) off the bus, and with them we walked the 2 1/2 km to Aldea Luna, our home for the following week. There’s zero internet there, and power only for a few hours on Saturday – so bring all your gear fully charged! It’s a 940+ hectare area of mostly bush, but there’s a large garden to tend, a really massive project – they’ve been living there for 10 years now.


There were quite a few people volunteering when we arrived, maybe 10 others? that dropped down a bit while we were there, and I’m sure it’ll pick up again. They pretty much have volunteers all year round. You work 6 days a week. Breakfast at 8am (9 on Sundays, your day off). Then work from 9 -> 1pm, lunch, and the rest of the day off. You’re expected to help with the dishes and cooking and general tidying up too of course. Their system for the washing up was open for gaming, as it was up to you to put your name on the list ;) Still, what sort of terrible terrible people wouldn’t put their name on the list? Not me anyway ;)


We did a lot of weeding, quite a lot of hacking at things with machete’s (good times). There were snakes (didn’t see any) and lots and lots of spiky plants which I’m still picking thorns out from (despite leather gloves). The food was vegetarian, and absolutely fantastically amazingly delicious. Their chilli sauce was just brilliant, I’m hoping the recipe will go on their website sometime. Ever seen a basil plant as big as this one? I hadn’t!


The family were lovely. Maaike had (has) a bit of an upset stomach, and Elizabeth prepared special food for her so that it would be kind on her stomach. Martin was extremely jolly and just a pleasure to work for.

On the Sunday we went for a walk to a highpoint with Sam and Georgia, a nice view about. The dogs came with, and (as per usual) you were picking burrs out of their jackets for days to come.


Probably my favourite task was helping to rebuild the road. There’s an awful lot of rain in the rainy season, and the road basically gets trashed. So, a couple of times a year bits of it have to get rebuilt. Martin discovered that the river on the property is basically the perfect self-refilling quarry. There is every grade of rock, large, medium gravel and sand, perfect for rebuilding roads!. The resource consenting process doesn’t apply so much out in the wilds it seems ;). I did enjoy picking and stringing up the chilli for drying too.


And then all too soon it was time to go. We had planned on being there for 2 weeks, but time is running out as we only have until mid May to get through Bolivia, Peru, Equador and Colombia… fun times ahead :)

Oh, and finally, a picture of a way smaller bug, and a very large spider (that it was beating up quite badly)..